Heena Sidhu on guaranteeing Olympics 2020 berth, the lowest point in her career and why Indian athletes should speak up

Heena Sidhu speaks on taking a break from sport, getting an Olympic quota, life beyond sport and why the 2016 Olympics was the lowest point in her career.

Shubham Pandey July 18, 2019 19:06:58 IST
Heena Sidhu on guaranteeing Olympics 2020 berth, the lowest point in her career and why Indian athletes should speak up
  • Sidhu is yet to have an Olympic quota to her name

  • Currently, Sidhu wants to re-energise and start afresh

  • Sidhu also realises the hardships of this sport, which she calls a lonely experience

The 365 days in an athlete's life leading up to the Olympics hold a lot of importance. The anxiety might double up, the race to the quota might get stiffer and the pressure may test nerves even more than usual. Heena Sidhu should be no different, right? She is a two-time Olympian, winner of Commonwealth and Asian Games medals. But her goal is bigger. Reading her mind in her bio, available on her website, where she writes, "Olympics does not take four years to come. Every second is bringing it closer, and we have to work hard every second", you know she has her eyes set on the podium in Tokyo.

However, on a rainy afternoon, sitting at a shooting academy, Sidhu looks relaxed, composed and at peace. Sidhu is yet to have an Olympic quota to her name. The pressure should be there but she said that it is her break time and she wants to get hungry again after some difficult months with the gun in hand. She told Firstpost, "Right now, we have time we can rest. I am not thinking about the Olympics as this is my rest time. When I feel energetic and when I feel I am hungry again, I will go back to shooting. The pressure is always there. But this is the time to minimise it.

Heena Sidhu on guaranteeing Olympics 2020 berth the lowest point in her career and why Indian athletes should speak up

File image of India's ace shooter Heena Sidhu. AFP

Like achievements, failures have also been plentiful, with the most recent one coming at the Delhi World Cup, where she failed to secure the Olympic berth.

"I would go back and make notes, discuss it with Ronak (her husband and coach). But you have to eventually forget about it. And you find ways to forget it. Best way to do that is to go back home and work on it as it gives you confidence that you are working on your mistake," she said on dealing with the failures.

Currently, Sidhu wants to re-energise and start afresh. For the same reason, she has not yet decided to take part in 12th Sardar Sajjan Singh Sethi Masters shooting championship which will be held from 28 July to 2 August. "I still have not sent my entry to the event," she stated.

A veteran of two Olympics at just 29, Heena said that both the events helped her decide and scrutinise a lot. It was after the 2012 Games that she decided to focus completely on shooting. It was also the around the same time she was pursuing dentistry but after the Olympics, she shifted her focus completely to shooting. She said, "When I was studying and shooting at the same time and then 2012 happened. So after going to the Olympics and realising how much effort and energy it takes, I decided I cannot do two things at one time. In order to excel in one of those things, I had to give my 100 percent. Then I decided to stick with shooting."

If the 2012 Olympic was a moment of realisation that what she wanted to do, 2016 was a reflection on how she would go and excel in it. Sidhu said that the 2016 Games was the lowest point in her career. She said, "The lowest point was 2016 Olympics. I was hopeful. I feel a few months in lead up to Olympics, I could have done things differently. The way we trained. We did a lot of matches and that burnt me out before the Olympics. So, looking back, it is something I would not do. The highest point would be 2018 CWG medals."

"I was young in 2012 and more energetic. I would just like go and bombard. I would constantly think about shooting. Then I became a lot calmer and it came with age. To think about what I am going to do than just be aggressive. I knew I needed to address the issue in a much calmer way."

Maybe the lessons learnt have helped her in making key decisions before the 2019 Olympics, like giving up the sport pistol in December last year, for she was not able to concentrate on both sport and air pistol shooting. Considering the fact that Sidhu clinched the gold at Commonwealth Games, which according to her is the highest point in her career, quitting it for the moment would be tough and it is reflected in her answer.

"My focus has been on air pistols since December last year. I do miss sport pistol and I want to go back at it one day but now is not the time. I am working on few things on air pistol and sport pistol is just making things very confusing, so maybe after this Olympics or maybe for nationals, I might consider keeping in touch with sport pistols," she said.

Beyond the sport, Sidhu likes to keep her mind occupied with the latest web series, films, sketching and painting being another two activities she loves. "I like doing other things also. I would take a holiday and spend some time. I like watching series, sketching. I have always loved painting and arts since my childhood. Even between my shooting days, I sketch and this is just for fun, for myself."

Sidhu also realises the hardships of this sport, which she calls a lonely experience. "It's an individual sport. Other individual sports like badminton have other variables. There are many other variables you have to master. In shooting, there are no variables, it is just aiming and shooting and you have to keep on doing and doing. You are always in your head, trying to control your thoughts and your emotions. So you spend more time with yourself, rather than going out with friends. The mentality of the shooter is very different from a cricketer, a hockey player on anyone else."

What sets Heena apart from majority of her contemporaries in Indian sport is her willingness to bare her mind. On Twitter, a day before this interview, she was quite open about her views on a recent bollywood release Super 30, which she enjoyed but found the end marred with too much masala. And she has not just been limited to films. When Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president, she said that she wanted to give that move a slow clap. She is in fact still very vocal about how she was awarded Arjuna award too late in her career despite being at her best than others.

"I do agree that athletes don't speak about anything other than sport and I wonder why. It is maybe because we are so lost in our sport that we don't want to find time to know what is happening in the world. Or is it maybe because we are trained liked this, that is to focus on your job in hand. Sort of how armed forces are trained. Our mindsets are not like that maybe. You are getting distracted by saying something here or there. Or people might come and ask you questions and that might distract you. I don't know why they don't but yes, athletes should speak up."

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